Lesser Kinds: Foreword

Varzi, Achille C.

This issue of The Monist is devoted to the metaphysics of lesser kinds, which is to say those kinds of entity that are not generally recognized as occupying a prominent position in the categorial structure of the world. Why bother? We offer two sorts of reason. The first is methodological. In mathematics, it is common practice to study certain functions (for instance) by considering limit cases: What if x = 0? What if x is larger than any assigned value? Physics, too, often studies the (idealized) initial and boundary conditions of a given system: What would happen in the case of a perfect sphere, or a perfectly black body? In the cognitive sciences, research often thrives on the analysis of cognitive errors, perceptual illusions, brain pathologies. Also in logic one can learn a lot by studying special, anomalous scenarios such as those exhibited by the paradoxes: it is unlikely that we actually find ourselves in a soritical context, or in a liar-like situation, but the fact that we might—or simply the fact that we can conceive of such a possibility— is important enough to deserve careful consideration. In short, the odd, the unfamiliar, the extra-ordinary, the limit cases are perfectly at home in scientific and more broadly intellectual discourse at various levels, where they can be fruitfully engaged in a sophisticated way (witness the existence of specific confining and managing strategies for dealing with them); and they are important precisely because they instruct us concerning the normal, the obvious, and the paradigmatic. The same goes for metaphysics, we submit. Although its major concern is, naturally, with such core entities as substances, properties, or hunks of solid matter, a lot may be learned by paying attention to those limit cases where we find ourselves dealing with entities of much lesser kinds, whether real or putative.


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November 14, 2014